Saturday, December 24, 2005

Bookselling 101

When The Week published a nice little review of Dog Culture a few weeks ago, I emailed my publisher to let them know that Amazon, Powells and other stores had completely sold out of their existing stock. The only copies available were the paperback at Barnes and Noble online. The hardcovers were completely sold out everywhere. Amazon listed the paperback as available in two weeks--not the kind of language that inspires a sale. And, in fact, rather than selling new copies, they sold more than thirty used copies.

My publisher assured me: they'll reorder. Two weeks later, they still list the book as shipping in two weeks and now Barnes and Noble is out of stock too. The fact is--judging by the listings--no distributor in the country has the book stocked either. How do I know this? Well, this is how online listings work: if the book is in stock with the retailer it "ships in 24 hours". If it is out of stock with them but in stock with a distributor, it "ships in two to three days."

So this stalemate could go on indefinately--for weeks, or months, who knows--and then the retailer,who hasn't had any stock to sell, will look at the sales record and see that the book hasn't been selling.

When I was on tour with The Kind I'm Likely to Get I ran into this problem. Stores were trying to get copies of my previous book, The KGB Bar Reader. The warehouses were rejecting orders, refusing to fulfill them, because there were no books. Then, when books were finally available, Barnes and Noble didn't reorder because they hadn't sold any copies in the previous months.

But none of my own stories are as maddening as one that occurred to a friend of mine. Pubhished by a major house, he sold 80 copies at a New York City Barnes and Noble. A few weeks later I went into the store and couldn't find any copies. Their computers insisted they had two. No one could find these two copies anywhere. Would they reorder? I asked. "Well," they said, "it hasn't sold any copies in the past two weeks."

"How could it?" I said. "You don't have any copies to sell?"

And that's when they pushed the panic button located beneath the register.

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